Jessica Sequeira: Race of the Horses

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Han Gan (742–756), Night-Shining White. Source: metmuseum.org

An old man used to sit outside my school every day, playing music on a traditional Chinese instrument. He would move a light wood stick over two pieces of metal. Most of the time the songs he played were slow, but some of the time he’d play ones that were real quick, and at those moments we kids would gather around. We had no problem making excuses to our teachers to leave class for five minutes, or take an extended lunch break. 

The old man never talked, but we gave names to the songs. “Race of the horses” was our favorite. At a certain point in the piece, the music took off at a gallop, to the point that it almost seemed the old man would lose control. His face contorted and his hand moved in a blurry see-saw, and we could just see those hooves flying over the track. The old man didn’t play that song often, but when he did, we went wild. At first he didn’t pay us much attention, but as the group of kids grew and we came to listen even after school, he began to up the ante. Increase the stakes.

The day came when he played “Race of the horses” putting more elbow into it than ever. You could just see the scissoring legs, the tails swishing, the flared nostrils and flying sand. The old man accelerated and accelerated, and breathless we listened, and the music went faster and faster, and fasteruntil off it went, on its own, leaving the musician playing with no sound coming out. We watched him keep at it for a while in silence, one that we matched by not saying a thing. Little by little the crowd dispersed. The next day the man wasn’t there.